Anything to declare?
Being a dental student is not just about acquiring knowledge and technical skills; it’s also a test of character. Even during your downtime, you’ll need to show you meet the standards of professionalism set by your dental school and the GDC.
Getting on the wrong side of the law is rare but could raise serious questions about your fitness to practise. However, the consequences of failing to report a conviction or caution could actually be far worse.
Here are some of the most common questions we are asked about criminal convictions and cautions.
What is a DBS check and what does it show?
Before being accepted onto your course, your dental school should have requested an enhanced check by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS), which is a public body with powers to check whether someone has a criminal record that might make them unsuitable for a particular job.
There are different levels of DBS check, depending on the position.
- Basic – unspent convictions and conditional cautions.
- Standard – spent and unspent convictions, cautions, reprimands and final warnings.
- Enhanced – the same as a standard check plus ‘any information held by local police that’s considered relevant to the role’ such as a Community Resolution Order.
- Enhanced check with barred lists – an enhanced check plus whether someone is on the list of people barred from doing that role.
The DBS update service is available for standard and enhanced checks to ensure someone’s DBS status is up to date. Dental schools generally require students to consent to this so they can keep track of changes.
What criminal offences must be declared to the GDC when applying for registration?
Applicants are asked to declare if they have current and past convictions and cautions from before or during your training.
The GDC sets these out in Student professionalism and fitness to practise:
- being charged with a criminal offence
- being found guilty of a criminal offence
- receiving a conditional discharge for an offence
- accepting a criminal caution (including a conditional caution), or otherwise formally admit to committing a criminal offence
- accepting the option of paying a penalty notice for a disorder offence (in England and Wales), a penalty notice under the Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 2011 or a fixed penalty notice under the Antisocial Behaviour etc. (Scotland) Act 2004
- receiving a formal adult warning in Scotland.
You don’t need to declare a fixed penalty notice for a road traffic offence or one issued by the local authority, eg for graffiti or an anti-social behaviour, preventative justice, or other social order.
Is it necessary to declare ‘spent’ cautions or convictions from years ago?
Dental professionals are subject to legislation that means even if a caution or conviction would usually be considered as ‘spent’ because a specific period of time has elapsed, it still needs to be disclosed (and will appear on enhanced DBS checks), unless it is deemed 'protected'.
This is a complex area because the legal definitions differ in different parts of the UK. For example, in England and Wales, a conviction is protected if it is not for a listed offence (such as violence or sexual offences), it didn’t result in a custodial sentence, and more than five years and six months have passed since the date of conviction if the offender was under 18. For more detailed guidance, see our guide to reporting criminal convictions and cautions.
It’s a good idea for dental professionals to declare all criminal matters to the GDC, even if they believe a caution or conviction is protected. This open and honest approach is in line with the GDC’s guidance for students. Plus, if the GDC is aware of the matter at registration, it avoids potential problems later on, including allegations of dishonesty.
If in doubt, DDU members can get in touch with us for specific advice.
Will declaring a conviction or caution prevent someone from registering with the GDC?
The GDC has the power to refuse an application to the register if it decides an applicant is not fit to practise or poses a risk to patient safety. When it considers applications for registration, the GDC says it will presume a conviction or caution raises questions about the applicant’s character, so the onus will be on them to show they still meet the requirements for registration.
The GDC might want to know more about the circumstances and will ask you if they do. It will then make an assessment to decide whether or not the applicant is fit to practise.
Decisions on registration are supposed to be proportionate and made on a case-by-case basis, but the GDC lists a number of factors that will be taken into account, including:
- the nature and seriousness of the offence
- the victim, eg, a patient, child or vulnerable adult
- how much time has passed
- medical assessments from a GP (for drink or drug related offences)
- good character evidence, eg, character references, evidence of insight.
If you have been honest and shown insight, you should be able to meet the GDC’s requirements, especially if the offence was relatively minor. Once a matter has been decided during the application process, the case is considered closed and it won’t be looked at again by the fitness to practise team.
What should I do if I get into trouble with the police?
These situations are extremely rare but if you’re arrested or asked to attend a police interview, seek legal advice at the first opportunity, telling the solicitor that you are a dental student so they appreciate the possible consequences of an admission of guilt. As a DDU member you can contact us for advice.
We also advise students in this situation to inform their dental school, explaining what has happened and why. It’s much harder to recover from allegations of dishonesty, if a student hasn’t been up front right from the start.
The dental school could initially consider the matter under its disciplinary process and then decide whether it raises concerns about the student’s fitness to practise. There are a range of possible outcomes from a student fitness to practise hearing from no action to sanctions, and ultimately expulsion from the course. The best option is to engage with the process, take responsibility for what’s happened and demonstrate insight.
Student fitness to practise proceedings must also be declared to the GDC when applying for registration.
When else would a dental professional need to declare criminal convictions and cautions?
Dental professionals are routinely asked to declare all convictions as part of the application process for a job in dentistry or to go on a performer's list, including those that would ordinarily be regarded as 'spent'. Contact us for advice if you are unsure whether to declare a caution or conviction.
As well as this self-declaration, a DBS check will normally be needed before taking up a new post.
Getting a conviction or caution does not inevitably mean you have to abandon your career in dentistry. In our experience, the most important thing is that you are open and honest with your dental school and the GDC, right from the start, and show that you have learned from what happened. If you're not sure what to do, remember that the DDU is always here to help.
This page was correct at publication on 23/11/2023. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.